Let’s face it, when students study abroad it is likely that they will be learning more about the culture than language. A good portion of this cultural learning is through night life, drinking, and partying. When I went to Spain for my study abroad trip it was the first time in my life that I could legally drink. The drinking age in the province I lived in, Asturias, is a mere sixteen years old, and for the duration of my time in Oviedo, I did not have to present my ID. Although the concept of few restrictions on alcohol is foreign to Americans, it is not as if the Spanish people are stumbling drunk everywhere. It is simply a cultural differences that represents their social nature, and because of this binge drinking is not as common in Spain and Europe.
The beverage I found to be most enticing in Oviedo was the sídra. Sídra is a version of hard cider, but it is much different than what one is able to buy in a supermarket in the United States (trust me – I have tried to find it!). What sets sídra apart from drinks we have here is the unique way in which an escanciador pours the beverage. He holds the bottle of sídra above his head and the glass into which he pours the delectable liquid at his waist. It is important that sídra is poured like this in order to aerate the beverage – it is what gives it carbonation. The escanciador will only pour you a little bit at a time because it is important to drink it fast before it loses the carbonation. You finish all but a small bit of the glass and then dump the little of what is left over onto the street or floor in order to rinse your germs off the cup. “Rinsing” your cup is seen as courtesy because the cups are shared among the group, so you never know who’s cup you will be drinking from next.
At first Calimocho was a very strange concept to me, but the more I had it the more I enjoyed it. The drink is a mixture of cheap red wine and coke, and it is only served in specialized bars specific for playing the drinking game “duro.” In Oviedo, there is one area of town that has multiple bars that serve calimocho and offer tables and shot glasses to play (such as puzzle and chaston). My favorite calimocho bar to go to was badulake, a large cafeteria styled room. After walking through the front doors you walk through a small hallway that leads to an open room filled back to back with tables. The walls are a bright neon green color and the chairs cheap and plastic. After searching almost every calimocho bar for an open table, we finally find somewhere to take a seat. Everyone in the group contributes a few Euros for the drinks, purchasing a large supply of calimocho, which comes in a barrel type container. Other bars serve their calimocho in large cups (64 oz) or even in large plant holders. The game duro is similar to the game quarters in the US. The main goal is to bounce change into shot glasses forcing other people to drink. But BE CAREFUL! You don’t want to swallow the coins, although I have seen this happen multiple times.
A third drink I encountered and found to be quite interesting while in Spain was a “semáforo.” Semáforo literally translates to stop light in English, and I believed it is named this because of the way the liquids in the drink separate. Some of my Spanish friends brought me to a bar, la mision, just down the street from the calimocho bars. La mision was not busy nor empty, so we were able to walk right up to the bar . My friend, Héctor, ordered us what would be my first semáforo. The bar tender gave us shot glasses, a glass filled with a sweet vodka with a little grenadine, a can of Pepsi, and some half lemons. The first question in my head was “how is this going to work?” Héctor then poured the vodka mixture into the shot glasses leaving just a little bit of space. Next was the little bit of Pepsi he added to each one. After that the half lemon was placed atop the shot glass and slammed down in order to add that little bit of extra flavor. This combination was unbelievably delicious; it came to be my favorite shot, and I know whenever I return to Oviedo it will be something I have to have.
While in Spain, I learned so much, from the Spanish language to the culture of the Spanish night life and everything in between (although there will always be more to learn). I can’t wait to continue my learning of other cultures through travel and meeting others from abroad.